August 16, 2010
North Carolina

Blow, baby, blow

By Cindy Beamon, Staff Writer | 16 August 2010

Plans to build a $50 million wind farm in Currituck will begin by measuring wind speeds, and if the readings are positive, North Carolina may be on the way to having its first wind farm, says a businessman who is taking steps to start the process.

Dean Carrico with East Coast Wind Power says he will apply for a permit in the next couple weeks to erect a meteorological tower at Powells Point, the possible site for a 250-acre wind farm if the winds are strong enough to support the investment.

The tower is one step toward a more ambitious plan to build one of the state’s first wind farms, but the process will take time, said Carrico, founder of East Coast Wind Power, a locally based company that Carrico operates out of his home.

“If the readings look good, we will put up more (towers), Carrico said.

The first meteorological tower, or met tower, equipped with an anemometer to measure wind speed, will cost $20,000 to install, he said.

Although preliminary wind readings are encouraging, more precise measurements from a met tower are needed before investors would risk financing the project, Carrico said.

“The wind farm is going to take a while to get started, but I think it’s going to be good for the community,” he said.

The company will need to take wind readings for six months to a year before determining the feasibility of a wind farm, he estimated.

East Coast Windpower is working with landowner Eddie Younts, who is interested in leasing land for the project. Plans are to erect the first met tower on Younts’ property, located off South Bay View Drive at the end of Owens Road.

If the venture succeeds, seven to 12 utility-scale wind turbines, 300 feet tall from the base to the hub with 180-foot blades, would feed into the grid system, generating enough power for 15,000 homes over one year, Carrico says.

If adjacent property owners decide to join the venture, more turbines would be added, possibly raising the total investment to $200 million, he said.

The wind readings will be “critical” to the project’s future, Carrico said. If wind speeds can generate enough power, investors may be willing to risk paying $3.5 million a turbine, he said.

Carrico said it is only a matter of time before a wind farm is built somewhere in the region.

“If this doesn’t happen here, we are going to do it somewhere else, and I hate for Currituck County to miss out because we have done so much work here,” said Carrico, who helped draft Currituck County’s wind turbine ordinance. The ordinance has become a model for other counties interested in developing alternatives to fossil fuels, he said.

County Planning Director Ben Woody said the county has developed an ordinance that encourages use of wind turbines if they meet specific qualifications.

“Location is important,” said Woody, adding that large tracts of agricultural land are best suited for the large, utility-scale turbines designed to generate power that is sold to the energy grid system.

Wind turbines require a special use permit with public hearings before the county Planning Board and the Board of Commissioners. The large utility scale turbines like what Carrico is proposing would also require an environmental impact study, Woody said.

The county also specifies setback requirements for the turbines. The ordinance requires that a turbine be set back one and a half times its height from the property line. For example, a 500-foot-tall turbine must be set back 750 feet from the property line.

Carrico acknowledges that the project still has a long way to go before it becomes a reality.

“There’s a long list of things (that will need to be done). Any one of those could kill a project,” he said.

Carrico said community support will be critical.

The proposal has drawn criticism from nearby residents concerned about the noise and light that the wind turbines may produce.

Carrico’s response is residents living a quarter- to a half-mile away will hear nothing.

Nearby residents, particularly residents of White Acres, criticized plans for the wind turbines earlier this month at a community meeting actually designed to introduce plans for a concert venue and recreational facility in Powells Point. Rachel Younts, daughter of Eddie Younts, said wind turbines would be erected on the 47-acre tract she proposes to use for the concert venue.

Both Rachel Younts and Carrico said the two projects are separate.

Carrico said he will be meeting with the White Acres Homeowners Association in July to discuss their concerns about the wind turbines. He said he’s already received several inquiries about a YouTube video that shows a turbine’s blade ripping away from the unit. Carrico said the event is a rare occurrence.

“Everything we use is going to have a certain risk, but I don’t think these turbines are going to be the monsters that they imagine they will be,” Carrico said.

Nearby residents have especially voiced concerns about noise generated by the turbines.

Carrico, who has a smaller residential turbine at his home adjacent to the Younts’ property, said sound from his turbine is drowned out when the wind blows. When the wind is still, the turbine does not make noise because it’s not turning, he said.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, an operating wind farm at a distance of about 750 to 1,000 feet would make a noise no louder than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room.

Carrico said a wind farm will benefit the community in several ways, in addition to providing an energy alternative to fossil fuels. He estimates a project would generate $200,000 to $500,000 a year in tax revenue, depending on how many landowners decide to sign on.

Landowners will also benefit because they’ll be able to lease a small portion of their property while still having most of the land available for farming or other purposes, Carrico said. Royalties for landowners are sometimes based on wind output, but generally pay at least $6,000 per year per unit, he said. In addition, the turbines, 20 feet in diameter at the base, take up only a small percentage of the land.

“They can farm right up to the base,” he said.

Carrico praised Younts for his openness to the new venture.

“He (Younts) is a pioneer. I think he’s taking Currituck County into the 21st century,” Carrico said.

East Coast Windpower has already installed smaller residential turbines in Moyock, Powells Point, Corolla and Carova, Carrico said. Plans to install turbines at Hatteras High School and Martin Community College in Williamston are also pending, he said.

In addition to generating energy, the turbines are used for educational purposes as more schools offer classes on wind and solar energy, Carrico said.

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